My husband and I got married in September of 2015. I always dreamed of having children, but by the summer of 2016 we still had no luck. It was strange because I swear, I felt pregnant: I was constantly feeling the urge to pee, my stomach looked big and felt bloated, and every other month I wouldn’t even ovulate. I also had pain in my lower right side that had been there for what seemed to be a few years that no doctors could figure out.
The frustration of not getting pregnant sparked a discussion with my OB/GYN. After an examination, she said my abdomen was hard and had me follow up with an ultrasound of my abdominal organs. It showed that I had a 17cm mass on my right ovary. She suggested I see a GYN Oncologist. I had laparoscopic surgery just before Christmas 2016 to remove the mass. When I woke up, the surgeon informed me that they were able to remove the tumor, but I lost an ovary and fallopian tube on my right side. Additionally, my abdomen was lined with white cancerous studs and fluid. Thankfully during the surgery, she had called in the GI Oncologist into the operation room. He traced the path back to the appendix which also had a tumor on it. He knew what to look for as he was an appendix cancer specialist. Instead of trying to remove it all during this surgery he knew it was best to close me up. They informed me that a much larger surgery was required but that I should wait a few months to heal before undergoing it. We interviewed 3 appendix cancer specialists during my waiting period and decided to head to Pittsburgh for the “MOAS”.
Concurrently during the 3 months wait, I met with a fertility specialist at RMA. I underwent 3 rounds of egg harvesting from my remaining ovary. From each egg harvest, we yielded 2 fertilized embryos – for a total of 6. This lifted my spirits immensely because at least we had the chance for kids in the future.
In late March of 2017, my mom, dad, husband and I drove out to Pittsburgh from New Jersey for CRS/HIPEC with Dr. Bartlett at UMPC. I had told Dr. Bartlett before the surgery to please save my uterus if possible. I still wanted the chance to carry children one day. The day of the surgery was a bit of a blur. We went to the hospital so early in the morning, before I knew it, I was being taken back to get prepped. I only had a few minutes to say goodbye to my family before getting whisked away to the operating room.
The surgery was 10 hours, and the doctor was able to remove all visible cancer and thankfully save my uterus. They took a few other organs in the process: my spleen, gallbladder, omentum, part of my colon, and the remaining ovary and fallopian tube. I have a fuzzy memory of waking up in the ICU. My family was holding my hands and they told me I was okay. I remember waking up later, on the recovery floor and feeling like I had been run over by a Mac truck. A lot of time passed – sleeping, managing my pain through medication, and walking the recovery floor. I’ll never forget the sheer joy of having my intestines “wake up” and being able to finally eat – even if it was only broth and sorbet ice cream. Every day was slightly better than the previous with small victories. I was able to leave the hospital after 10 days.
Just before being released, however, my surgeon informed me that I was to have 12 rounds of chemotherapy back at home. I was so angry, this felt like a huge setback after so much progress. Back at home I had 6 months of chemo. Chemo started off okay. I lost my hair, I got neuropathy. However, after about 6 rounds I felt so weak I could barely stand up. I ended up taking a month off to build up my stamina before continuing chemo. I truly believe if I hadn’t taken that break that the chemo might have killed me… To this day, I keep in touch with my chemo nurse.
August of 2018, I had a small bowel obstruction that resulted in emergency surgery. That was scary. But the big takeaway from that surgery was that they had a chance to look in my abdomen and there was no regrowth of the cancer and no mucinous tumors. The surgeon said if I wanted to begin trying to get pregnant, I had the green light. We implanted the strongest and best embryo in October of 2018. I thought for sure we would have to try a few times, but the embryo took on the very first try. We have our beautiful 2 ½ year old, Kiera. We decided to try again for a second child 2 years later. That embryo also took on the first try and now we have our adorable 8-month-old, Cecilia. Both pregnancies went extremely well. I was monitored by an MFM doctor, and I was able to carry both to full term and deliver both naturally. To be honest, after CRS/HIPEC, delivering a baby felt like a piece of cake.
This March will be my 5-year survival anniversary. I have come a long way during that time. Luckily, I can eat most foods and live a normal lifestyle. I was even able to go back to work and ended up branching off and starting my own business as a custom residential architect. I am very happy and grateful to be here and to live my life to the absolute fullest. I could not have done it without my support team: my husband and my family.
My big takeaway from this disease: As a patient you must advocate for yourself. You know your body better than anyone. If something is important to you, tell your surgeon. I joined the ACPMP Patient Advisory Council to be able to share my journey and to help others in theirs.